How to Communicate with Older Adults

It is unwise to categorize people just by their age, but it is also true that certain physiological and psychological changes are associated with aging. These changes affect a person’s ability to receive a message. If your goal is to reach older Americans, you need to know how aging affects all facets of understandings.

As people age, they typically become more farsighted. They have greater difficulty adapting to sharp changes in light. They have a harder time seeing colors of the green blue violet end of the spectrum and they lose their ability to hear the high pitched tones found in a women’s voice.

Older people also have greater difficulty coordinating information that is hitting their eyes, ears, and other senses all at once. This can cause real problems in communication. The following guidelines for effective communication with the elderly will help you better reach this important market.

Keep the message simple: With increasing age, adults react more slowly and less accurately to sensory stimulation. Because the central nervous system’s capacity to process information is reduced, the elderly often miss messages if their attention is divided. Don’t overload your messages with unnecessary information. Keep the message simple is a timeless principle of advertising and it is never more appropriate than when communicating what the elderly.

Make the message familiar: Familiar experiences are easier for older people to process. The elderly find comfort and security in seeing and hearing events in the usual way. Repeated exposure to a message reduces the effort needed to interpret it. As a message becomes more complex, this principle becomes more important.

Make the message concrete: Older people rely more on concrete than on abstract thinking. As people age their problem solving abilities typically decline. Because emotional appeals in advertising tend to be vague, they may not be as effective in reaching older adults as hard hitting rational appeals. You should avoid using nonsense syllables in brand names and advertising copy. Visual aids improve recall for all adults. As people age visual memory declines more slowly than verbal memory. A combination of words and pictures is especially effective when targeting older Americans.

Take it point by point: When designing a message for the elderly, space out each point you want to make. Older people concentrate on the first part of a message longer than do younger people. If you present information too quickly, the earlier cues will over power the points you make later. Spacing the message allows older people to process each piece of information individually. While no scientific standard exists, the general rule is the slower the better.

Give preference to print media: Deadlines and time limits cerate anxiety for any body and this is especially true for elderly people. When older adults are allowed to process information at their own rate, their learning abilities improve. Print media let consumers set their own pace: television and radio do not. Though elderly people watch a lot of television, it may be less effective than print as a way to get their attention. Point of purchase displays can reinforce the messages you introduce in broadcast media.

Supply memory aids: Older adults don’t organize or recall information as readily as do younger adults. But when you trigger their memories, the differences between young and old disappear. Visual cues are especially effective. Ask them to remember what the old product looked like then show them the new product. Get them to visualize something and then show them how it could be.

Make good use of context: The more pleasant the memory the more easily it can be recalled. Whenever possible, your presentation to an elderly consumer should stir recollections of pleasant events like graduations, weddings and births. Any audience that feels personally involved will remember your messages better. But evoking positive images of family, health, social interaction, and the accomplishments of tasks is a particularly good way to engage older people.